Analysed by Robert Walton
The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.
The earlier New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra existed from around 1916 until 1927 for the performance of Chappell Ballad Concerts. But in 1942 a new aggregation on the block was born, comprising many players from London’s symphony orchestras. All it needed now were conductors and composers but there was no shortage of them. Charles Williams took care of the first batch of 78rpm discs and later Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon added their considerable talents. The results of this teamwork became legendary and almost overnight modern state-of-the-art light music in its finest form came like a bolt from the blue into the 20th century. Like big band music of the time it never really dated. The sounds it produced were out of this world. The old-fashioned compositions of the 1930s and before were now just a memory.
But sadly this state of affairs was not to last. A dispute with the Musicians’ Union in the late 40s forced publishers to switch their recording sessions to the continent. This unfortunately had its downside as European orchestras weren’t capable of interpreting light music in quite the same way. Hence the “electricity”, “feel” and indeed expertise established by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was simply not replicated by the new orchestras. And it showed. But before we examine Seventh Heaven, let’s find out the origins of the title.
Being in seventh heaven is a state of ecstasy or perfect bliss. The term occurs in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Heart of Midlothian” Chap.33 (1818) - ‘You may go to the Seventh Heaven’. It may also have been popularized as “Seventh Heaven”, the title of a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell silent movie (US 1927). But the concept of a seventh heaven is an ancient one. In the Jewish and Muslim religions there are seven of them. The Jews also call it ‘the heaven of heavens’ where God and the most exalted angels live. The division probably derives from an ancient Babylonian theory of astronomy in which the seventh ring of stars was the highest, and represented supreme bliss.
Going straight in, the main melody acting as an introduction, sets the scene for a glamorous Hollywood premiere, pageant or show. Then the strings effectively play two muted “fanfares” over which descending broken chords prepare for the official tune. This typical Farnon surge in a very danceable tempo like Melody Fair is propelled along by the rhythm section. It’s as if Seventh Heaven has just been unleashed and found a new freedom. There’s also a feeling that “everything in the garden’s lovely”. In other words ‘all is well’ with the world.
The tune literally sparkles under Farnon’s floodlights and then a beautiful key change tells us we’re well and truly on our way in one of his famous “travels into tunes”. Then, unusual for this type of majestic piece, the melody loosens up with three staccato string notes repeated after another key change. A climax takes us into an exclusive universe where we are free to wallow in the world of Robert Farnon. The horns join in for yet another chance to hear this gorgeous tune gradually slowing down and working towards a fabulous finish but not before the strings show who’s really boss!
It may not have been the pre-1950s magical Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, but I have to admit the performance was very good. Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of the composer himself conducting at the recording session, because the Danish State Radio Orchestra played so well!
CD AJA 5470
Following this article, William Zucker was induced to provide further notes and impressions on it in a follow-up article "Some Further Notes on Robert Farnon's "Seventh Heaven"". His article can be read here.